Do you consider your engagement in social media "heroic"? Maybe you should. Dave Brenner researches how facebook, twitter and other forms of social media are changing the name of the game when it comes effecting change in the culture. There is tremendous potential to be harnessed— if we know how and are willing to put forth the effort.
The Church’s mission has been and will continue to be counter-cultural —it responds to hate with love, violence with non-violence, fault with forgiveness. We know that the narrative of human history is not primarily told through economics, political science and legislation, but through culture and heroic virtue and God’s providence.
This view of time both transcends history (for a life in Christ already knows something of the eternal) and compels us to transform history (for anyone connected to the body of Christ must care for the whole body). This is the understanding we must have to evangelize the culture: We realize it’s imperative to address the major moral issues of our time by reflecting Christ’s light on the darkness, but we’re indifferent to the technique.
On the one hand, while there can be a real media bias, it is often overdrawn, as Ross Douthat wrote in a New York Times op-ed last month. The “bias” of which we speak is often a scapegoat for our own ineffectiveness in providing persuasive witness to the faith. The foundation of our media problems is one of message, messenger and perception.
First, we’re more frequently defined by what we stand against rather than what we stand for. We’ve become the “religion of ‘no’”—no extra-marital sex, no contraception, no abortion, no same-sex marriage. We’re not telling the story of the greater “yes” that underlies these positions. Second, we’re perceived as old, stodgy reactionaries and ideologues, far removed from the challenges and joys of the real world. We don’t have the passion, the purpose or the panache of someone with a revolutionary message. Third, and most importantly, these lead to the perception that we’re on the wrong side of history. Perception is everything when it comes to shaping opinions on moral topics that will be judged by history.
This is the great opportunity of social media. It is the technique to shape and reframe any story. Unfortunately, I think we’re slow to realize that social media is not just a new way to communicate with friends, it has forever changed the process for building advocacy networks, shaping opinions, and altering policy decisions.
Let me share an example. In late January, Susan Komen announced that they would no longer be funding Planned Parenthood for providing breast exam referrals. Within two days, there were 100,000 tweets on the topic. Twenty-eight out of 31 of the most commonly tweeted hash tags (a process for filing and categorizing tweets) attacked Komen for the decision.
When Komen made a statement on their Facebook page, it received 5,000 comments almost instantly, and an estimated 75 to 80 percent of these comments were from supporters of Planned Parenthood. More than any other factor, this furor changed Komen’s decision and they reversed their decision and continued to fund Planned Parenthood. This story is even more remarkable when one considers a recent Gallup poll that states 58 percent of US citizens believe abortion should be “illegal in all circumstances” or “legal in only a few circumstances.”
So where was the proportional representation online? We can’t blame anyone but ourselves for our lack of engagement on this topic. When there was an opportunity to support a principle-based decision, the pro-life voice was quiet and it allowed angry, funny and politically charged stories supporting Planned Parenthood to be the main messages on Twitter, Facebook and the blogosphere. It’s never been so problematic to be a “silent majority” as it is now. It may not seem as heroic, but engaging in social media is the new march on the Washington Mall, or the new Montgomery Bus Boycott.
It’s interesting (and a bit humorous) that we’re hearing about the need for social media from the Vatican and Benedict XVI (just look at him tweet!). In a recent address, he tells us “to proclaim the Gospel by employing the latest generation of audiovisual resources (images, videos, animated features, blogs, websites), which, alongside traditional means, can open up broad new vistas for dialogue, evangelization and catechesis” (44th World Communications Day).
The need is obvious and the support is there. What do you think is needed to make us take up this charge and become savvy at social media?
Interested in experimenting with cause-based social media? Visit this site (http://dearfrjenkins.tumblr.com/), share your favorite letters on Facebook and Twitter and consider writing one of your own. We need to encourage Notre Dame’s President to stand in civil disobedience to the HHS Mandate.
And of course, follow Father Barron on Twitter: @FrRobertBarron
Follow Word on Fire on Twitter, too, while you're at it: @WordonFire
Dave Brenner is a Word on Fire blog contributor and a seminarian for the Archdiocese of Chicago.